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In Scotland, a bird flu epidemic devastates birdwatchers

Birdwatchers in Scotland have been left devastated after an outbreak of avian flu broke out in some of the countryโ€™s most well known seabird colonies, leaving thousands of endangered and popular birds dead, or dying.

Birder Peter Stronach posted some footage of the distressing scenes on social media, capturing this footage of an adult Gannet in the later stages of the disease – though, fair warning, don’t click “play” if images of sick and dying birds are likely to distress you:

Avian flu has a 100% mortality rate in infected birds. There is no known cure.

The outbreak was first reported in Scotland last winter, when more than 10,000 barnacle geese succumbed to the illness, with locals reporting geese falling from the sky in distress. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says

The truth is we have never seen Avian Flu kill so many wild birds before. This new form of the disease is more deadly to wild birds than previous forms of the virus. The outbreak in early winter is now being followed by another outbreak – but the scale of wild bird deaths is unprecedented.

In Ireland, outbreaks of avian flu in recent years have had a major impact on the poultry industry, where outbreaks can be devastating to farmers. The Department of Agriculture culled tens of thousands of affected chickens in Irish flocks last year, amid a particularly bad outbreak. Irish farmers are particularly concerned about the disease spreading to the domestic flock through infected wild birds.

This week, the RSPCA in the UK announced that it could no longer accept sick or injured seabirds, due to the risk of spreading the disease:

A spokesman said: ‘Tragically, bird flu continues to spread at an alarming rate, with seabird populations worst affected.

‘In a bid to stop this highly contagious disease from killing hundreds of our wild patients, we have made the difficult decision to close our centres and branches to new seabird admissions.

‘This includes (but is not limited to) the most common seabird species: gulls, auks, terns, cormorants, shearwaters, gannets and fulmars.

The UK authorities have also closed several well known tourist spots in Scotland โ€“ including the Farne Islands, a well known Puffin watching spot โ€“ amid concerns about the possibility of tourists inadvertently spreading the virus.

The UK and Ireland are amongst the most important breeding destinations for seabirds globally, with in excess of 100,000 breeding pairs of gannets, and perhaps twice as many puffins, coming to our shores annually to nest and reproduce. This is a time when they are at their most vulnerable to predation and disease.

In Ireland, the largest gannet colony is on little Skellig, off the coast of Kerry, though no outbreaks of avian flu have been recorded there, to date.


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